Top 100 Golf Courses of Continental Europe 2016
Our latest Continental European Top 100 ranking list is unveiled
We’ve yet to meet anybody who has played Continental Europe’s Top 100 Golf Courses. Our extended team of contributors have seen all the courses on this latest European ranking list but it’s a challenging process to sequence the rankings because no one person has played them all. Additionally some raters argue their corner more strongly than others. If you’re reading this article and have played 50% or more of the hundred courses listed, then you are doing very well indeed and I for one would love to hear from you, so please get in touch.
It seems inconceivable that only two courses from Continental Europe have recently been listed in our 2016 World Top 100. The main reason for this, I think, is that it’s a real labour of love for any golfer to travel to so many different countries with their sticks in tow. It could take a lifetime to visit each country in Continental Europe let alone play every one of the contender courses in every individual country. It’s much easier (relatively speaking) to organise the ranking lists on a country-by-country basis.
Having said all of this, we’ve done our very best and spent a great deal of time on this latest Top 100 ranking list. It’s by no means definitive but it’s an honest and unbiased effort.
There’s no change at the pinnacle of the table, it’s the position that Morfontaine has occupied for many years and it will take a very special course to displace this venerable Tom Simpson classic, which Kyle Phillips continues to modify, albeit with a light touch.
We do have a new Dutch number two though (following a recent Frank Pont renovation) and it’s one of a handful of courses from The Netherlands that appear prominently within this latest list. Koninklijke Haagsche, or Royal Hague, leaps seven positions and also claims a spot in the World Top 100. Refashioned by Harry Colt and Charles Alison just ahead of the Second World War, Royal Hague is blessed with dramatic topography, which sets it apart from most of its Dutch counterparts. Click here to read more about Royal Hague from our International Correspondent, David Davis.
Utrecht de Pan is Holland’s equivalent to England’s Sunningdale and it makes a bold move into the European Top 10 (up 15 to #9). It shares Royal Hague’s Harry Colt lineage and both courses were showcased via the TV series “Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf”. If you’re lucky enough to play de Pan, check out the statue of Pan, playing his pipes, on the thatched clubhouse roof. Hopefully, you will not have encountered him during your round as he is said to haunt the woods and fields, causing anxiety to those who pass through – hence the term panic attack. Click here to read more about Utrecht de Pan from our International Correspondent, David Davis.
Everyone knows that there are two Real (Royal) clubs in Sotogrande and one might not have the same Ryder Cup pedigree as the other, but for the first time the original Robert Trent Jones course, Real Sotogrande (up 8 to #7) overtakes its younger sibling, Valderrama. We’re sure this won’t meet with universal agreement, but if you’ve played them both you’ll already have an opinion as to which one is best.
The North course at Monte Rei (up 2 to #10) is yet to be joined by a younger sibling, but this Algarve property is perfectly able to stand alone. One of the few Jack Nicklaus Signature courses in Europe, Monte Rei continues to receive more positive reviews than most other European facilities. Our Editor Jim McCann commented as follows: “Nicklaus designs are not everybody’s cup of tea but, wow, what a fantastic job Jack did here on such a wonderfully diverse property – this is golf on a grand scale as fairways pitch and roll around heaving foothills in a clever routing that only ever allows the layout of the following hole to be revealed on arrival at the next tee.”
An extensive French review has resulted in a few significant moves, notably Harry Colt’s St Germain (up 37 to #17), which frankly was previously positioned way too low in our rankings, and Les Aisses, (up 41 to #33). The original Les Aisses design was modern and occasionally eccentric, but Hawtree Limited changed all that and the style now harks back to the Golden Age. Architect Russell Talley commented exclusively for Top 100 (his full article can be read by clicking the Les Aisses link): “The owner’s brief for Hawtree Ltd was to re-create an old-style course reminiscent and inspired by the old heathland courses of the UK. The existing course, built in the early 1990s, was three loops of nine, of which two of them, the red and white course, were chosen to comprehensively redevelop in style… All tees and greens were remodelled, along with new fairway bunkering.”
Our new European Top 100 features eleven new entries, the highest of which is from Sweden. Ullna Golf Club leaps in at #44 following an extensive Nicklaus renovation. The course retains Sven Tumba’s original routing from the early 1980s, but new tees, re-shaped fairways, new bunkers and green complexes at all holes, make the renovated Ullna a definite candidate to return to the top of the Swedish rankings.
Dr Bernhard von Limburger, or “Limmy” to his friends, originally designed the East course at Hubbelrath (new entry #57). He drilled a supremely challenging layout through the forest and in the process exposed some amazing natural landforms. Under the guidance of Howard Swan, the East has been remodelled and lengthened to ensure it remains a significant test when hosting important tournaments. Nowadays it's mostly about the top-level amateur circuit, but in the past the German Open was held here on eight occasions between 1973 and 1994.
Robert Trent Jones Jnr upgraded Palmares (new entry #67) in 2010, dividing the property into three nines, “Lagos,” “Praia” and “Alvor”. Four holes on the Praia nine (two pretty par threes and two tough par fives) run along the shoreline and the second last greensite on this circuit is shared with the penultimate hole on the Lagos nine (where the only two water holes on the complex are featured). A reviewer recently commented: “Stark elevation changes and a pleasingly engaging and not to say unusual breadth of variety awaits throughout. It just gets better and better. The last few holes feel magical and natural. A fitting end to a superb golf course that you will really love and remember.”
The layout belonging to the Golfsociëteit De Lage Vuursche (new entry #71) is the result of collaboration between Kyle Phillips and RTJII and it opened for play in the year 2000. This was an ambitious restoration project that aimed to revert flat farmland back to its former glory of rolling terrain flanked by woodland. The result is that Lage Vuursche has found its level as one of Holland’s premier courses.
Neguri (new entry #77) bursts back into the 2016 European rankings for the first time since 2008. Alfonso Erhardt Ybarra, author of The golf courses of Javier Arana, writes: “The course of the Real Sociedad de Golf de Neguri benefits from an excellent routing that extracts the maximum value from a relatively small property; the distances between each green and the following tee are virtually non-existent. Arana had no need for aggressive earthworks or artificial trappings to breathe life and excitement into the course. Despite an apparent absence of hazards, Neguri has withstood its first fifty years admirably, without any lengthening or any addition of sand traps to the forty-five existing ones.”
The opening of the Stadium course at Bro Hof Slott Golf Club was subject to intense coverage in the golfing press. However, the Castle course (new entry #84) seemed to slip below the radar when it opened in 2009. We think the members quietly count their lucky stars as they get to keep the Castle as their little secret. What luxury to have such an interesting counterpoint to the splendid Stadium course at your home club. The Stadium course might be the tougher of the two with its massive length and demanding design, but the Castle course is no pushover. It’s a thorough challenge for any player.
Golf de Belle Dune (new entry #86) is the southernmost club in the triumvirate also comprised of Le Touquet and Hardelot. It’s a popular layout with Brits who travel through the Channel Tunnel to the Côte d’Opale. This relatively young course opened for play in 1992 and Jean-Manuel Rossi routed it through some of the France’s finest dune land, a stone’s throw away from the sea.
Few people will have heard of the Heritage’s designer, Jonathan Davison, whose work to date has centred on Eastern Europe and Ireland. We predicted that his Heritage course (skilfully shaped by Mick McShane) would be the star in his portfolio. A new entry at #93, the Heritage course leapfrogs the Nicklaus-designed Legend at Slovakia’s Penati Golf Resort. The designer commented as follows: “I set myself a goal to create a golf course that would reflect the theory the early golf course architects espoused. It ignited inside me a desire to use all the existing components of the countryside to their maximum authenticity in order for the course to have the traditional look evoking the atmosphere of “the golden era of golf courses” and to offer a totally different playing experience alongside that of the Nicklaus-designed 18-hole course completed earlier.”
The quirky Barbaroux (a re-entry at #94) is set close to the French Riviera. It’s the prime location for golfers who want the warm Mediterranean sunshine on their backs. Pete and P.B. Dye (Paul Burke) – the father and son team – designed Barbaroux, and it’s the first Dye creation in France, opening for play in 1989. This is the course that created a stir and it’s still causing some controversy today. The reason for this is simple, the Dyes did some serious earth moving and the Barbaroux course is a potpourri of styles, which range from links-like holes with blind shots to US-styled target golf holes protected by water. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea but it’s certainly not dull.
Quinta do Lago has come a long way since entrepreneur André Jordan’s dream way back in the early 1970s. The South course is the layout that most avid golfers rush to play, but the North course (new entry #95), formerly called the Ria Formosa (named after the Nature Reserve) is definitely worth savouring after its €9.6m renovation by American architect Beau Welling in collaboration with European Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley. The new-look North course reopened in October 2014 to critical acclaim.
Vallda is located in Kungsbacka just south of Sweden's second largest city Gothenburg. In the Göteborg area you will find some thirty decent golf courses and Martin Hawtree’s Vallda Golf & Country Club (new entry #98) is the region’s best. It might be described as a Swedish anomaly, illustrated by one reviewer as follows: “It is very rare to be able to play a real game on the ground in Sweden as most courses are too extensively watered and Mother Nature normally sprinkles liberally herself in July. Vallda naturally has sprinklers, but sensibly leaves Nature to take its course, while no doubt watering to keep the grass alive, but no more. The result was a really fast-running course, all the way from tee to green.”
Feedback is always welcome, so please feel free to let us know what you think of our latest 2016 Continental European Top 100. Have we omitted a course that really should be in our rankings, or have we included a course that really doesn’t deserve to be there? Maybe there’s a particular layout that’s riding too high or perhaps there’s one lying too low in the standings? Please click the “Respond to this article” link at the top and bottom of the page if you’d like to share your opinion.
If you’d like to help improve our European golf course rankings, please get in touch. Finally, a big thank you to everyone who has taken the time to post many colourful course reviews, please keep them coming, it’s your reviews that we all enjoy reading most.
Click to see in detail our new 2016 Top 100 Golf Courses of Continental Europe.
23 December 2015 Respond to this article